A flag is a piece of material coloured and patterned in a particular way, originally devised for military purposes, as a means of distinguishing between different troops of soldiers. From here it developed into a symbol of kinship, of comradeship, of a communal spirit. Sándor Mikus’s statue of the Flag-Bearer, made in the 1950s, reflects the mandatory blind optimism that was typical of the communist zeitgeist, and its flag conveys a completely different message from the one expressed in József Szurcsik’s steel sculpture, which abandons figural depiction and effectively converts the moment of waving a flag into three-dimensional form. Mikus’s work is dominated by the narrative approach, whereas Szurcsik’s sculpture embodies the different layers of symbolic meaning associated with the concept. The common link connecting the two works is the flag itself, a symbol of a common mission or objective – in this case, with the sculptures exhibited here together, the flag represents the joining of forces for the benefit of art.
The idea for this exhibition project was prompted by the fact that barely a hundred of the works in the Hungarian National Gallery’s rich collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century sculpture (out of a total of almost 5,000 items) are regularly on public display. Our aim is to breathe new life into some of these museum sculptures, and to make them more visible with the help of some contemporary sculptors and other artists who work in three dimensions.
The project ties in with ongoing research into the classical influences that are found in contemporary art (sculpture), especially the Hungarian sculptural traditions that survive in present-day works. Museology and archiving have become central issues in international contemporary art in recent years.
The artists invited to participate were chosen in order to reflect, in terms of generations, techniques, materials and approaches, as wide a spectrum as possible of contemporary Hungarian sculpture (to the extent permitted by the frames and scope of the project), with particular attention devoted to highlighting female sculptors, who play such a significant role in the Hungarian art scene.
Each of the guest artists was asked to select one work, or ensemble of works, from the collection of the Department of Sculpture, mainly from those that are generally kept in storage. The work had to be in a suitable condition for putting on display, of course, and served as the inspiration for a new, contemporary work, created by the artist for this project.
The artists were given a completely free hand to produce their own works however they wished, with no restrictions imposed on technique or genre (anything and everything was welcomed, from conventional statues to installations, objects, or works of digital, conceptual or any other plastic art) – the only stipulation was for the new work in each exhibit to be a reflection of some kind on the original work from the gallery’s collection, as an extension of its formal, sculptural or thematic aspects.
The works will be presented as a series of “guerrilla exhibitions”, each lasting a month, in which one or other of the gallery’s spaces will be partly occupied by a contemporary creation and its “source” from the museum collection. Every month, a new pair of sculptures will be unveiled, always in a different part of the gallery.
These brief appearances are also intended to liven up the everyday goings-on inside the Hungarian National Gallery, deliberately disrupting the daily rhythm and marking a break from the usual museum routine. Our project promises to be an exciting experiment, where the thrill is provided by the “sudden” reappearance in the exhibition space of sculptures from the warehouse – these exhibitions demonstrate that in most cases, an artwork in storage is simply going through a temporary phase, and its status can change at any time. At the same time, the contemporary works engage these sculptures from the past in a new kind of conversation, enriching them with new dimensions. This discourse takes place within the walls of the permanent collection, where the works already present can join in with their own contributions. As a result of this dialogue, visitors to the gallery can take part in a novel, interactive artistic event.
art historian, curator